New Zealanders increasingly concerned over online conspiracy theories - survey

  • 21/02/2022
A man wearing a tin foil hat holding his hand out
The InternetNZ survey also found more people were concerned about privacy on the web. Photo credit: Getty Images

A new survey from InternetNZ has shown New Zealanders are increasingly concerned about the internet and its ability to spread online conspiracy theories and fake news.

The non-profit organisation is the guardian of the .nz domain name and commissions research from Colmar Brunton each year on use, benefits, concerns, and fears regarding the Internet. 

The latest survey, of 1,001 New Zealanders over 18 online showed 58 percent are either 'extremely concerned' or 'very concerned' about online conspiracy theories, according to the survey, up from 42 percent last year.

Those worries also go across other aspects of the internet, with two thirds of those surveyed extremely or very concerned about misinformation on the web.

The use of the internet as a forum for extremist material and hate speech was concerning for 65 percent in the survey, up from 58 percent last year.

"The rise in concern levels stands out this year and is certainly worrying," InternetNZ Chief Executive, Jordan Carter said.

"The concerns New Zealanders are feeling highlights the urgent need for improving our experience online.

"We are facing major challenges online - a lot of them with broader themes of misinformation and hate - and we need to come together to try and solve these."

Carter said it's not only those in Aotearoa who are facing the issue, but he believes the country can show international leadership in overcoming the challenges.

The research shows concerns over personal security online are also rising, with 66 percent of those surveyed choosing to use at least one online service because of security or privacy concerns, an eight percentage point increase from last year.

"With the internet being a lifeline for many of us during the global pandemic - when online is often the only way to connect with others, make a living, pay the bills and make necessary purchases - privacy and personal information security become fundamentally important," Carter said.

Despite those trust and security concerns, however, 86 percent said the benefits of the internet outweigh the negatives.

"This shows us that New Zealanders still recognise and value the benefits the internet offers," he said.

"But with so many people utilising the Internet, and the growing necessity it has become to function in today's society, it’s more important than ever that we mitigate the risks online."

The top concerns of those surveyed were children accessing inappropriate material online, cyber-bullying and security of personal data, according to the research.

Other findings include an increase in the number of New Zealanders using the top three social networking platforms daily compared to 2021 and nearly half of people who are able to work from home (46 percent) would move elsewhere if they could relocate their current job.

InternetNZ uses the proceeds from the sale of .nz domain names to support the development of New Zealand's Internet through policy, community grants, research and more.

The survey was carried out in November 2021 and has a maximum margin of errors of 3.1 percent.